Interview with Ahmed Alshuwaikhat, Author of The American Translator: From San Francisco to Battlefields in Iraq

20 Mar 2024

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The American Translator: From San Francisco to Battlefields in Iraq?

One main reason behind writing The American Translator was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 coupled with my early interest in the ancient literature of old Iraq (Mesopotamia).  I was always intrigued by the mythology, literature, secrets, and history of Mesopotamia including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known written literary text in the world. I was born in Saudi Arabia, traveled a lot and wrote novels. Later, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for six years. I have friends from Iraq, the USA, Saudi Arabia and across the region. This also has played a role. As such, many entangled reasons and motives are behind The American Translator: The Gulf War, the ancient arts of Mesopotamia,  the cultural conflict, the dilemma of people from different cultures who have been caught in the atrocities of the war, queries about fate, the individualistic versus the collective, the meaningful versus the absurd.  

All of this, or some of it at least, has been persistent and waiting to be released in a narrative. What gripped me more are the experiences and realities of ordinary people across cultures at harsh times of conflict. So, a cross-cultural story, a multidimensional one, was likely to be written and rewritten to capture some nuances of the saga. The story, therefore, has to feature mystery, adventure, thrill, action and speculations in an enticing plot, I hope. As the issues are complex, the narrative has been careful to reflect the intricacies of themes and relations. The whole thing is out now for the judgment of the readers and critics. 

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of The American Translator: From San Francisco to Battlefields in Iraq what would they be?

Oh, I will leave it to insightful readers, critics, producers and film directors to pick up theme songs and music scores. To me, a new breed of fused traditional and contemporary tunes (of Eastern and Western music) may be created to resonate with the spirit of the story and different moods of characters in various settings.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I like reading literature that has a mixture of genres. I also write with an impulse to have more than one genre present in my works. Just a resemblance of life, I guess.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Some books by the Nobel Prize of Literature winner of 2023, Jon Fosse, are still on my desk. Otherwise, I have an urge to reread certain well-known works that I have read in the past, some of them more than once, and I feel strongly to revisit, like Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”, Jeovanni Boccaccio’s “De Cameron”, “One Thousand Nights and One Night”, and some works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I don’t know if I’ll have the time to reread all of these, but I will try where I can besides writing and traveling.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I enjoyed writing the scenes of The Fisherman Wharf near the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay Area, the dense green palm tree groves by the Euphrates River in Iraq, the villages by the river, some tantalizing scenery in Europe and the huge military camp in a vast desert.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

No, but sometimes I love writing in public traditional cafes where people are moving around, laughing and chatting spontaneously.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Sometimes in “days of wisdom” I remember: “Work for your life as though you will live forever, and work for your legacy and afterlife as though you will die tomorrow”, a saying by an ancient sage from the Middle East. On other days, I live it as it may come. No fixed proverbs, no one binding philosophy, no one confining quote – just write, read, travel, and walk around, soliciting hope and energy and wishing all would be fine.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

It is difficult to choose. But if I have to, I would say – among other things – the anecdotes told by mother Sofia. She has her own peculiar takes on life, history, people, events, and her Boccaccio family, saying it all with a sense of humor and sarcasm, knitting her tricot tapestries while sitting on her rocking chair.


Ahmed Alshuwaikhat is the author of the new book The American Translator: From San Francisco to Battlefields in Iraq

Connect with Ahmed Alshuwaikhat

Author Site



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